Friday, April 10, 2020


    The Englishman and the American stood staring at the cling-film wrapped bundles of dollar bills that filled the oil drum. 

    “Cartel drug money,” muttered Rufus.

    “Fill your boots,” grinned Kevin.

    The guys went back to the trucks and returned with the women and as many empty bags as they could muster; back-packs, sports bags, bicycle panniers all quickly filled with cash that seemed to be all in the $20 denomination. They re-buried the drum; pulled up a pair of sage bushes, pulling them behind as they tried to mask their footprints as they went back to the vehicles. A quick count revealed about $3,000,000, stashing that amount in the trucks proved more difficult. Kevin was anxious to get going, his military training reminded him of his vulnerability; wide open position in enemy territory, they needed a safe haven and quickly.

    The Brits fancied Belize while the Americans preferred to return to the US; reasoning that home turf would be safer than a tropical jungle state. It was the parting of the ways for the foursome; after struggling up the loose surfaced track, they hit the newly paved Highway 5; the Mack turned north, the Leyland Daf headed south. They hadn’t noticed anybody watching them, the whole time they had been off-road, but crucially, they had not noticed the game camera attached to a Saguaro cactus that overlooked the burial site.

    The Americans didn’t reach home soil that day; they pulled into Pete’s Camp and parked well away from the other campers. Rufus was keen to hide the $1,500,000 before the border and fortunately the fire rescue truck had plenty of storage compartments; even so he finished off by stuffing wads of notes through the recessed ceiling lights into the cavity between the roof and headlining. Customs officers often ask if you have more than $10,000 in cash when you cross the border; Rufus would just have to lie. There would be an inspection at the military checkpoint just north of San Felipe and possibly again at Mexicali but the truck was so different from everything else that most inspections were guided tours rather than some over-enthusiastic contraband search.

    When it came to hiding the cash in the Leyland Daf; Kevin chose the classic, tried and tested hiding place: inside the spare wheel. The overland expedition truck carried two spares, mounted on a purpose built rack across the back of the living quarters and they were raised and lowered by their own electric winch. One tyre full on banknotes still left a usable one full of air. The Brits headed south and searched for an isolated spot away from Highway 1; a beach at the end of a rough dirt road where they could work in peace.

    If you have a flat tyre on a busy highway; no one stops to help. Start messing about with a spare wheel in the middle of nowhere and somebody will rock-up and offer to help. Kevin had dropped down one of his spares and deflated the tyre when a German registered MAN TGM13-290 appeared over the horizon and made a bee-line for the Leyland Daf. Gunther jumped down, offered his hand and free advice on tyre inflation.

    “All fixed, just need to air it up,” lied Kevin, “ Gabby, fetch a couple of beers for our European friends.”

    “ You have air-line? No. I have air-line.”  gushed Gunther.

    Kevin had met this sort before; ultra friendly, ultra helpful and they always assumed you knew nothing. He had learned the hard way; don’t argue, let them have free rein and don’t make it into a competition. Kevin let Gunther pump-up the tyre and helped him re-install it on the back of the Leyland Daf. After an evening of German hospitality; Gabby and Kevin knew the life story and all about the world-tour of Petra and Gunther. It was past midnight before they were in bed, alone together for the first time since the Germans arrived.

    “What the hell are we going to do with the money now?” asked Gabby.

    “ Christ knows. Just wait until they bugger off and try again, I suppose.”

    “But they know we are heading for the ferry at La Paz and so are they. What if they want to buddy-up?”

    “That could be to our advantage; let them lead the way. Safety in numbers and all that. Just got to find another place for the money.”

    Gabby and Kevin spent most of the night stuffing the mattress with banknotes after carefully cutting out sections of memory foam. They soon found out they would never again have a comfortable nights rest.

    Meanwhile back at Coco’s Corner, an all-black Cadillac Escalade turned off Highway 5 and descended the dirt road; it was the fortnightly visit to the game camera. The third stop on a six stop tour.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


       Rufus delayed smashing a window and climbing onto the roof of the truck. A wise move as the water didn’t come up to the top of the dining table before if slowly receded. By dawn there was just a thin coating of silt and slime on the surfaces that had been underwater. Outside the flow of water had nearly stopped with just a trickle from puddle to puddle.

    Kevin ventured out to find no damage to the Leyland Daf. He quickly fired-up the motor and eased the truck onto higher ground. It wasn’t so simple with the Mack; it was half buried on one side with a lot of sizable rocks that needed moving before it could be extracted. Luckily they had four shovels with them. They would level the ground behind the truck, dig away the soil at each side and reverse out, with the help of the Leyland Daf if necessary. Gabby cooked breakfast while the others washed out the interior of the Mack and after the meal they all got down to digging. It was a morning of slipping and sliding, getting down and getting dirty and barefoot was the way to go.

    “Is this what we’ve been looking for?” said Missy casually holding a shark tooth that completely covered her hand.

    “Well bugger me, two days looking and now we get one when we’re not!” exclaimed Kevin just as Gabby reached down and picked up an even bigger one.

   Megalodon’s had 276 teeth that fell out and replaced themselves on a regular basis. Finding two so close together gave the diggers hope that they might have stumbled on the remains of a dead meg that had been unearthed by the flash flood. They dug with renewed vigour but only found two more before Kevin ran out his winch cable to the back of the Mack. The ground was still sticky but the managed to pull the Mack onto an even keel. It would be days before the river-bed had dried enough for the trucks to retrace their steps back to Coco’s corner. But the sun shone and spirits were high; no damage was done. The stainless steel bodywork of the old fire truck was top quality engineering. Silt was everywhere but nothing a high pressure washer couldn’t return to pristine.

    Two days of searching the newly eroded deposits around the mesas brought a steady stream of megalodon teeth; some broken, some of excellent condition and size. Enough to make the expedition a success; well into double figures and a four figure payday, each. The last night was party night. Rufus brought out a bottle of Patron Silver, the salt and the lemon. It didn’t last long as they drank while laying out the complete collection of teeth. Rufus tossed a coin for first choice and they alternately picked their share. Biggest and best down to smallest and roughest.

    The guys decided to walk the course before tackling the road out. A good choice as there had been plenty of erosion by the storm. They handballed rocks into the worst of the ruts; taking all morning to get it all level as the women packed up the vehicles in their absence. On the way back down, Kevin saw the bright blue corner of a plastic oil drum laying on the riverbed. Always one to leave a place cleaner than he found it, Kevin went over and kicked at the plastic; bending over he found it was more than a broken piece, it was a whole drum. He jabbed the shovel through the lid, shattering the brittle plastic. Kevin dropped to his knees.

    “Look at this, Rufus, come here and look at this.” 

Saturday, April 4, 2020


    A track led East from Coco’s Corner; Coco the US Army veteran who had established the dusty rest area/ campsite/ snack bar said that several customers had been lucky fossil hunting at the foot of local “mesas.”  Mesa means table in Spanish. A mesa was an outcrop of rock shaped like a mushroom; formed by erosion caused by wind and rain. If there was evidence of seashells surrounding a mesa then it was reasonable to assume that it was once under the ocean. Find sea shells- find shark teeth.

   The single lane track wound among the hills before dropping into a gorge. It was dry but obviously a water course when it rained. There were no tyre tracks to follow as the two trucks picked their way from side to side; trying to keep out of soft sand and the ruts caused by descending streams of water. Easier for the Leyland Daf than the Mack with its lower ground clearance and long rear overhang. In fact Kevin drove with a smile on his face; the 4x4 was now doing what it was built to do. Rufus was muttering an endless stream of expletives as the back end of the Mack constantly grounded on the stony track. Missy’s white-knuckled grip kept the dashboard in place while Gabby nonchalantly checked her cellphone for a signal.

    Eventually the gorge widened into a flat dry riverbed, several more gorges entered the main watershed at the same spot. The Sea of Cortez was still out of sight but looking downstream; there were several mesas and they were in logical places to start digging. The women wanted to set-up camp first; level the trucks, open the awnings, bring out chairs and tables. The men grabbed their shovels and attacked a mesa without even bothering to close the driver’s door of their trucks. By evening they were hot, sweaty with blistered hands and toothless. Twenty-four hours later it was the same story except everyone had worn gloves. The four had spread out; a mesa each. They found plenty of regular sized shark teeth and shards of whale bone but megaladon teeth had proved elusive.  

    It wasn’t as easy as picking-up banknotes from the pavement. Maybe they were in the wrong place. Conversation over dinner centred on whether to move on or dig deeper where they were. They decided to break camp in the morning and head for the Pacific coast. They were unaware of the storm coming in from the ocean.

    A distant thunder roll was the first indication, then the white light flashes reflecting in the open roof hatch over the bed in the Leyland Daf. It was well past midnight when the first raindrops forced Kevin to close it. Within an hour, there was no time-lag between lightning flash and thunderclap. In such a deluge, all campers in vehicles feel sorry for campers in tents and celebrate their choice of accommodation and the safety it affords with a dry comfortable bed.

    All that changed as a flash flood roared down the canyons and gorges; uniting in the riverbed. There was a sharp jolt in the Leyland Daf as the stony soil beneath the back wheels of the vehicle was washed away. Kevin dressed quickly, climbed through the small hatch into the cab of the truck and fired-up the motor. The wipers did little to clear the relentless rain; the headlights just showed a raging torrent rushing past but the lightning lit up the scene just long enough for him to see a path to safety. The truck had started drifting sideways by the time Kevin had engaged the differential locks and low ratio in the gearbox. He turned upstream, edging over to higher ground and the cover behind one of the mesas; rocks and debris clunking against the front bumper. It was impossible to get completely out of the water and the current still swirled around them but they were on firmer ground and felt safe.

    The same could not be said about Missy and Rufus. The Mack had no pass-through from the living area into the cab. Water was beating against the back door with such pressure that it was impossible to open. They had no skylight or roof hatch; they were imprisoned and at the mercy of the wall of water that began moving them downstream. At nearly twelve tonnes, the Mack was too heavy to go with the flow but turned sideways and listed heavily; resting against a large boulder as the dirty brown water washed over it and slowly found every crack and gap. Slowly filling the interior.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


    There was a little bit of paper work to do before entry into Mexico but it was all available on the Internet. Tourist visas cost 500 pesos and lasted for 6 months. Vehicle insurance was mandatory but turned out to be cheap; $120 for thirty days, $125 for 6 months. Just how good the insurance was and what it covered was debatable. Gabby and Kevin went for the 180 days. They planned to continue on to Belize and had to also complete the formalities for a TIP, Temporary Importation Permit; a $200 re-fundable deposit to discourage travelers from selling their vehicle and leaving Mexico without it. Rufus and Melissa purchased 30 days insurance but did not need the TIP as Baja California enjoyed an exemption from the bureaucracy.

    There were several options for crossing the border; none promised a quick easy passage but Calexico, crossing to Mexicali, looked simplest. Kevin and Missy led the way in the Mack, westbound on Interstate 8 from Yuma after south on Highway 95, then south on Highway 7. The Leyland Daf struggled to keep-up but was only a few cars behind as they joined the end of the line-up for the border. RVs filtered right and each took a lot longer and the cars in the other lines. The vehicle examination was more of a guided tour for the Mexican customs agent, every cabinet inside and every storage box opened but not rummaged through with any thoroughness. An hour later the pair of trucks were heading south on Mex Hwy 5 heading for San Felipe and Pete’s Camp, the iconic first night halt for first-time new arrivals.

    Parking just yards from the Sea of Cortez, palapas by their side the four set up camp and retire to the restaurant for a discussion about the final plans with a couple of wood-fired pizzas and some Tecate Light.

    “We can dump and refill with fresh water here, there are a couple of supermarkets in town. How long can you guys stay off-grid in the Leyland Daf?”

    “About seven days. Are we going to need any tools for this digging? We got a shovel.”

    “ Yeah, we need a shovel each. So let’s say we leave tomorrow and expect to stay out there for a week.”

    Lunch was at Cow Patty’s loncheria with an interesting conversation about shark jaws with proprietor and his customer. Random memorabilia and an old school bus were incorporated into a structure held together by the stickers of numerous Baja 1000 racing teams. Next stop was Coco’s Corner, overnight stop and confirmation of nearby fossils of interest. 
Coco's Corner